How Voluntourism Began

By: Debra Ronca | How Stuff Works


Voluntourism_working with children in Africa_www.urbanministry.org_Africa 468 (rcasenhiser)

Working with children in Africa. Photo:

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the service organizations that sowed the seeds for voluntourism were created. For example, the United Kingdom’s Volunteer Service Organization (VSO), founded in 1958, now sends volunteers all over the world to donate their skills in areas of poverty. Most assignments last from several months to several years. In the United States, the Peace Corps traces its genesis to a 1960 speech by President John F. Kennedy. The president challenged students to serve their country in a peaceful way by working in developing countries. These two landmark programs — VSO and Peace Corps — led to the formation of even more volunteer and service programs, such as study-abroad, ecotourism, and the U.K. “gap year,” where students take off a year prior to university to perform charity work.


Most of the volunteer work done before and during the 1970s was more about activism than tourism, however. The stereotypical Peace Corps volunteer was idealistic, young and a free spirit — someone able to make a huge time commitment. However, in the 1970s, another aspect of volunteering began to take shape.

Is Voluntourism Cheaper?
A volunteer vacation can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, not including airfare. Some organizations offer grants or subsidies in special cases. For example, the organization Travel for Good offers a “Change Ambassadors Grant” that awards up to $5,000 for those eligible. For the most part, though, a volunteer trip means you spend your own money, just like a regular vacation.

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